Written By Kris Brown.
Posted on June 28th, 2023.
For me, one of life’s simple pleasures is to get multiple things done at the same time. Multitasking or killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. It’s one of the reasons I like foraging so much. You get a multitude of benefits from traipsing through the great outdoors (for example, fresh air, exercise, and clarity of mind), plus tasty food from the forest that helps to keep the grocery bill down.
Last summer’s foraging was bountiful. Around the end of July, my wife Jess told me about a massive raspberry berry patch on a mountain top in Stamford, NY. We spent half a day hiking to the top and we picked several pounds of raspberries, filling an assortment of take-out, yogurt, and lunch meat containers.
Foraging wild raspberries in Stamford, NY
Washing and storing foraged wild raspberries
For the next few weeks, I ate berries for breakfast on top of yogurt and oatmeal; I made a berry smoothie with some frozen spinach, yogurt, honey, and whole flax seeds; I ate berries by the handful as a work snack.
A few weeks later, I was hanging some trail cameras and I spotted something orange amongst the dark green of the forest. Walking closer I realized it was shelves upon shelves of mushrooms growing out of a large, decaying hardwood log.
A whole heap of mushrooms I was hoping I could eat
Top view of the mushrooms
My knowledge of edible mushrooms was fairly slim, but I knew I was on to something here. Luckily, I had cell phone service, so I started googling edible mushrooms I had heard about: ‘Hen of the Woods’… nope, not a match. ‘Chicken of the Woods’… there we go!
I was 90% certain I could eat these mushrooms, but I’d never foraged mushrooms alone before. Seeing a tremendous food opportunity, but also still worried about poisoning myself, I watched this video: Chicken of The Woods - Identification, Look-Alikes, Medicinal Benefits, & More with Adam Haritan. I learned that it’s difficult to mis-identify Chicken of the Woods (COW). Two potential look-alikes are chanterelles (which are edible and tasty) and Jack o’ lanterns (which are toxic). Chanterelles grow on the ground (not on decaying wood) and they have ridges on the underside of the mushroom, unlike COW, which has pores and is smooth on the underside. Jack o’ lanterns have gills on the underside.
Smooth underside of Chicken of the Woods
I had stumbled upon an easy-to-identify and tasty mushroom. Wanting to be extra sure, but mainly to brag a little bit, I texted photos to a friend and they confirmed with confidence it was indeed COW. I didn’t have a pocket knife with me that day, but I used a sturdy credit card to separate the mushroom shelves from their interface with the log. I stuffed a few pounds of them into my backpack. Later, I learned that it’s better to put the mushrooms in a mesh bag to help spread the spores as you walk away and to keep the shrooms from getting hot and slimy.
Once home, I washed off any bark or debris and sliced the mushrooms into chicken-tender-sized pieces. I battered and fried them using my friend’s recipe, which can be found here: https://www.tyrantfarms.com/introducing-the-chicken-of-the-woods-mushroom-laetiporus-cincinnatus-et-al/
Squeaky-clean Chicken of the Woods mushrooms
Battered and fried Chicken of the Woods mushrooms
By golly, they did have the texture and taste (somewhat) of chicken. At any rate, they were very good, so I went back out with Jess and her friends to grab some more. I gathered 5-6 more pounds and froze them as processed strips. I’ll revisit the log around the same time next year to collect another bounty.
Foraging with friends in the Catskills
Perhaps this blog will inspire you to learn more about plant and mushroom identification, or maybe even go foraging. You’ve heard it before, but please don’t eat any berries or mushrooms unless you’re absolutely sure of what they are. Forage with a knowledgeable friend. Hone your skills at a mushroom ID workshop. For example, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties (NY) frequently hosts mushroom forays at Siuslaw Model Forest. To find one, check out their events page: https://columbiagreene.cce.cornell.edu/events.
If you’re interested in reading more foraging blogs, MyWoodlot has a few about berry picking:
If you’re interested about growing mushrooms (specifically shiitakes) on your property/woodlot, check out the following activities:
Thanks for reading!